Becoming a Christian
One of the most loosely used words in modern English is the term “Christian.” It has been applied to almost everyone from the faithful member of the church, to the non-religious moral man, who holds as his greatest attributes that he provides for his family and does not mistreat his wife. In this present generation multiplied thousands, who thus consider themselves Christians, have never realized what the Bible actually teaches on this vital subject.
As we learned in lesson four, merely believing in Christ does not make one a child of God, but rather gives us “power to become sons of God” (John 1:12). Jesus said, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Again we remember the wicked rulers who “believed on him” but did not confess him because “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Since the term “Christian” is used in the Bible only to refer to active, obedient followers of Christ, it is obvious that it takes more than mere faith for a person to actually become a Christian (Acts 11:26, 1 Peter 4:16).
As we approach this study then we should bear strongly in mind that merely thinking ourselves to be saved does not make it so, and even if the whole world should judge us to be a Christian, that this is not the true test of discipleship. God is our savior, not man, therefore only He has the divine right to say how we are to be saved and thus to rightly wear the name of His Son.
The simplest method of answering the question of what a person must do to be saved and thus become a Christian is to quote some particular denomination’s opinion on the subject. The purpose of these lessons, however, is not to study a mere denominational opinion since human opinions, no matter how sincerely given, are subject to error. They have indeed proven to be very untrustworthy throughout the ages in matters of religion (Matthew 15:9). The only real answer to this great question then must be “What does the Bible itself actually teach a person must do to be saved?” As you study these lessons you are therefore asked to accept only those things which can be read directly from your own Bible.
Acts of Obedience
One of the clearest teachings in the Bible is that we are saved by the grace of God and not by our own personal worthiness. Paul said, “. . . it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we learned in lesson four, however, this does not mean that we will be saved without obeying the divine commands of the gospel. God has always required obedience as a basis for receiving the gift of salvation and has promised to some day take vengeance on those who have not done so (II Thessalonians 1:7-9). We remember also James’ statement concerning the acts of obedience, “. . . a man is justified by works and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
If a company were to offer to give $10,000 to whomever would write the best letter about their product no one would suppose that he had actually earned the money simply because he had written the winning letter. The $10,000 would obviously still remain a gift, even though it was necessary to do certain things in order to be eligible to receive the gift. In the same way salvation is the gift of God, even though we must meet the necessary requirements in order to receive the gift by obeying the divine commands of the gospel.
Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” and again, “If a man loves me he will keep my words” (John 14:15 & 23). To fail to keep the commands of the New Testament then, is to prove that we really do not love Christ, regardless of how strongly we may claim to do so. Without this love which prompts obedience faith is useless. Paul said, “. . . and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains and have not charity (love), I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13:2).
In this lesson we shall study five things the New Testament says a person must do in order to receive the forgiveness of sin and thus become a Christian.
May God grant to each of us the wisdom to lay aside every prejudice and preconceived belief about religion and the courage to accept only the pure, undiluted gospel of Christ, unblemished by human opinions or beliefs.
Examples of Conversion
We learned in lesson two that Acts is called “the book of conversions” because it describes how people were actually converted in the New Testament times. Though other parts of the Bible tell of Christ before he died and established his New Covenant, Acts is the only book which contains divinely approved examples of conversion for this age. In it we read of eight separate cases of conversion each of which follows the same pattern. These are listed in the chart on the next page for convenience of study. From these cases we learn what people actually did to be saved in New Testament times and therefore what we must do to be saved today.
It should be noted that the writer of Acts made no attempt to list every single thing that happened in every conversion. In some cases certain acts of obedience, such as repentance and confession are described, (marked with X in the chart) while in others they are not. This does not mean, however, that they did not take place. Since they were commands of God and so obviously a part of the acts of obedience the inspired writer did not feel it necessary to list them over and over again. When we see a summary of all of these cases, however, we learn that there are five essential parts of conversion, they are: 1. Hearing the gospel, 2. Believing in Christ, 3. repenting of sins, 4. confessing faith in Christ and 5. being buried in baptism for the remission of sins. You will notice that some of the acts are mentioned in every single case of conversion. Only those acts are marked in the chart which are specifically described in each case. Though you are probably already familiar with these Bible examples of conversion, it would be very beneficial to read them again from your own Bible as soon as possible after completing this lesson.
|1.||Pentecostians (Acts 2:36-42)||X||X||X||-||X|
|3.||The Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39)||X||X||-||X||X|
|4.||Saul (Paul)(Acts 22:1-16;& 9:17-20)||X||-||-||-||X|
|5.||Cornelius (Acts 10:25-48; 11:12-14)||X||-||-||-||X|
|6.||Lydia (Acts 16:23-24)||X||-||-||-||X|
|8.||The Corinthians (Acts 18:4-11)||X||X||-||-||X|
Other Scripture References
Aside from the actual cases of conversion, we have numerous other scriptures which tell us what we must do to be saved. Each of the five steps in conversion is mentioned elsewhere in words such as these:
I. HEARING THE GOSPEL: Paul said in Romans 10:14, “. . . how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Again, in verse 17 he states, “So faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In Acts 18:8 we read, “. . . and many of the Corinthians hearing believed and were baptized.” Other related scriptures are: Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 8:20-21; Matthew 13:15.
II. FAITH: Since an entire lesson has already been devoted to this subject it is only briefly mentioned here. The inspired writer of Hebrews summed up its vital importance however, when he said, “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
III. REPENTANCE: The word “repent” comes from Greek word “metanoeo” which means literally “to think differently.” It signifies a change of mind about sin which is so definite that it produces a corresponding change of actions. Repentance is not merely sorrow for sin since “Godly sorrow worketh repentance . . .” (II Corinthians 7:10). It includes a resolution to turn from sin which actually produces such a turning. In Acts 17:30 we read, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Jesus said, “. . . except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). See also II Peter 3:9; Luke 24:46-47; Luke 15:7.
IV. CONFESSION: The Bible next tells us that we must confess Christ before men. Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Again in Romans 10:10 the Bible states, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” A Bible example of confession is described in the conversion of the Ethopian Eunuch. In Acts 8:36-37 we read, “. . . and the eunuch said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God..” This “good confession” is not only a duty, but a privilege of all who would become Christians (I Timothy 6:13).
V. BAPTISM: Since most people realize the importance of the four acts already mentioned, we shall devote the remainder of the lesson to a study of the last great step in becoming a Christian - baptism.
Why Be Baptized?
In Acts 10:48 we read, “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Some have disregarded God’s command to be baptized much as Naaman refused God’s command to dip in the Jordon River to be healed of his leprosy (See II Kings 5:1-14). They have “reasoned” as did Naaman, that it is not “logical” to suppose that water could be in any way associated with salvation, and that it is therefore only a matter of personal preference as to whether or not a person is to be baptized. The point that should be clear, however, is that although water has no saving power of itself, baptism is a definite and emphatic command of God and is therefore just as essential to salvation as any of the Lord’s other commands (Acts 10:48; John 14:21; Matthew 7:21).
In Acts 2:38 Peter said, “Repent, AND BE BAPTIZED EVERY ONE OF YOU in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE REMISSION OF SIN, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” If repentance is necessary for the remission of sins, so also is baptism. (Compare the phrase “for the remission of sins” here to a parallel translation from the Greek in Matthew 26:28). Jesus said, “He that believeth AND IS BAPTIZED SHALL BE SAVED: but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Although we may be lost by simply not having faith, we must have faith AND be baptized to be pleasing to God.
The Bible teaches that we have not even taken the final step which puts us into Christ until we have been scripturally baptized. Paul states, “For as many of you as have been BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST HAVE PUT ON CHRIST” (Galatians 3:27; See also II Timothy 2:10). Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of WATER and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Even though Saul (Paul) had seen Christ on the road to Damascus and had prayed for three days, he was still not saved until he was scripturally baptized. Ananias, a preacher sent to him by God, said, “And now why tarriest thou, arise, and BE BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY THY SINS, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
Peter said, “ . . . God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even BAPTISM DOTH ALSO NOW SAVE US (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) . . .” (I Peter. 3:20-21). The Revised Standard Version reads as follows: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience . . .” Infants do not need to be baptized since they are not old enough to be accountable and therefore are not lost (Matthew 18:3; Ezekiel 18:20). It is, in fact, impossible to be scripturally baptized until one is able to be taught the gospel, believe, repent, and confess faith in Christ (Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:35-38; Acts 2:38).
What is Baptism?
A modern dictionary defines baptism as a “sprinkling with or immersion in water.” This definition is unreliable in determining what constitutes scriptural baptism, however, since modern dictionaries defines words as they are currently used and not as they were used in Bible times. Though some religious groups have followed Naaman’s reasoning in substituting sprinkling and pouring for Bible baptism, there is not one shread of authority for doing so in the entire New Testament. In every case in the Bible, the Greek word “baptizo” which is rendered “baptize” in our English versions, is used to refer to immersion, never to sprinkling or pouring. There is not a single reputable Greek lexicographer who defines “baptizo” by “to sprinkle” or “to pour,” in fact entirely different Greek words are used for these terms. History shows that these practices were never in general use until 1311 A.D. when they were declared to be acceptable substitutes for immersion by a council of the Catholic Church held at Ravenna (see Edinburgh Encyclopedia, Sir Edward Brewster, Baptism).
In contrast to the substitutes of man, the Bible is clear that scriptural baptism is a burial or immersion in water. The Bible says that true baptism requires:
A. “Much water” — John 3:23. This is not necessary for sprinkling or pouring.
B. Going to the water — Acts 8:36. In sprinkling or pouring the water is usually brought to the person.
C. Going down into the water — Acts 8:38-39. This would be useless if sprinkling or pouring were true Bible baptism.
D. A burial of the candidate — Romans 6:4. This is accomplished only by immersion.
E. Being raised — Colossians 2:12. This is not true of sprinkling or pouring.
F. Coming up out of the water — Mark 1:9-10; Acts 8:39. This also does not fit either sprinkling or pouring, yet it is exactly what happens in true baptism.
You are strongly encouraged to read these scriptures from your own bible as time permits. Though some of them are not fully accepted by part of the religious world, neither were the Lord’s teachings fully accepted during His public ministry upon the earth. This fact however, does not change the truth of these great passages. May God bless you in doing His will.
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